When Swedish pop group ABBA won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974 with their song Waterloo, few could have predicted the global fame they would achieve. Even after their break up in 1982, their legacy has continued for decades with tribute bands, movies, stage shows and endless airplay on radio. Now in 2021 it seems they are back, with a brand new album and a stage show that introduces the ‘ABBAtar’.
Many of their long lasting fans around the world will welcome this rebirth, however others will throw up their hands in disdain. ABBA have always been one of those bands that people either love or never want to hear again, consigned to the trash heap of pop along with Buck’s Fizz and the Bay City Rollers. Whilst Australia lapped them up in the 70s, in America they faced a barrage of criticism.
Reviewing their album Arrival in 1976, Ken Tucker from Rolling Stone wrote:
“Even more than their three previous American releases, Arrival is Muzak mesmerising in its modality. By reducing their already vapid lyrics to utter irrelevance, lead singers Anni-Frid Lyngstad and Agnetha Fältskog are liberated to matter on in their shrill voices without regard to emotion or expression, and the language barrier is broken…”
Likewise his compatriot Stephen Holden commented:
“Ultimately, though, Abba are as expendable as they are exportable. In treating pop music as a computer game, they’re Sweden’s answer to Space Invaders…”
Over the past four decades there have been numerous rumours of ABBA reforming, always denied by the group despite the mention of huge financial incentives. Now with a new album, they will soon be back on the concert stage, albeit as digital avatars of their old selves, not the crusty senior citizens that they are today.
Whereas many pop bands and performers, who continue on into their 70s and even 80s, are happy to hit the stage, wrinkles and rusty joints alike, ABBA have chosen to cheat the clock. Admittedly they would look somewhat ridiculous if they chose to actually appear in person, clad in the shiny, silky outfits and tight fitting jump suits they donned during the 70s.
Nevertheless, many of those in the anti-ABBA camp, will view the ‘ABBAtar’ as cringeworthy and perhaps an unfortunate precursor of things to come. We have already seen concert tours that feature holograms of artists such as Elvis and it’s only a matter of time, and rapid improvements in technology, before on stage avatars become common place.
That’s one of the scenario’s that awaits us in Mark Zuckerberg’s ‘Metaverse’, where pop stars will never grow old, let alone completely fall off the twig. The dead will be resurrected and the living will never die. Elvis, for example, is bound to be back, with both a young hip shaking avatar and a more portly Viva Las Vegas version. More importantly his avatars will be duplicated multiple times, meaning on any one day he could be performing at 50 or 60 venues worldwide. And no need for those peanut butter, bacon and banana sandwiches in the backstage rider.
Perhaps in the not too distant future, we will see an ABBAtar tour of Australia. Agnetha, Benny, Bjorn and Anni will be safely back in Sweden, counting their filthy kronas, whilst an army of their avatars will descend on every Australian stadium and entertainment venue. With an injection of artificial intelligence, the avatars will also appear on TV chat shows as well as cameos in VIP Big Brother.
Eventually the public will no longer tolerate the glitches and imperfections of live human beings on stage and demand only a perfectly choreographed avatar. Groupies will still congregate at the stage door, waiting for their favourite performers to appear, but any hanky panky back in the hotel room, could prove rather disappointing.